The House Carpenter


Jon reveals “I’ve learnt this recently and am a bit torn whether to use the ‘sinking’ verse or not although I’ve left it in for now though. I quite like the ‘what hills’ verses being more abstract – more like he’s an actual demon taking her directly to Hell.”

Another in the Child collection (#243) also known as The Demon Lover and James Harris (Herries) this is one of those ballads that seems to have it all and was widely known in C17th, although is probably based on a much older story. Despite that it was printed as a broadside with the very specific detail of “A Warning for Married Women, being an example of Mrs. Jane Reynolds (a West-country woman), born near Plymouth, who, having plighted her troth to a Seaman, was afterwards married to a Carpenter, and at last carried away by a Spirit, the manner how shall be presently recited.” If you follow that story line then the first example from Child that you’ll see here seems to be absolutely on the mark. Whether it relates to an actual historical scandal (possibly the talk of the town) of a woman leaving her family behind and sailing off into the sunset is questionable. The appearance of her former fiancé as a spirit seems somewhat fanciful to be a report of a real event. More likely it’s another moralising tale or fable. It certainly makes sense of why in some versions the lady, once led astray, pays the ultimate price and is damned to Hell. That to me feels like an old folk tale or myth being retold, but also where, not for the first time, an empty shelf in the knowledge bank does for my extemporizing. Perhaps someone can help me out and link it to Greek or Norse myth or something even more exotic. Besides like Jon I’m rather fond of the verses that he’s included relating to hills of Heaven and Hell, which provide a poetic lift. You probably want to have a quick look at Mainly Norfolk for Bert’s notes from whence the above quote is lifted, plus some other bits. Mudcat here seems to have the lyric set that Jon follows. A quick Wiki here will also reveal the astonishing number of recorded versions of this. I think through all of that I’d have to agree with Bert’s comments that the Scottish versions seem to play up the supernatural element and thus have the greater drama and “better texts”.



23 Responses to “The House Carpenter”

  1. Phil says:

    Wot no comments? That was excellent.

  2. Shelley says:

    Stunned into silence Phil! Such a beautiful song.

  3. Dick A says:

    Another great song. They just get better.

  4. jonathan says:

    For what it’s worth, as sung, I think the sinking verse could go –

    Peter Bellamy did a fine version on Both Sides Then. I’ve just ‘Amazoned’ that to check availability, and Bellamy’s first two Kipling discs are being re issued. Unmissable.

    I don’t post a lot, but as we’re nearing the end, I’d like to say thanks to everyone & especially to Jon for a great project

  5. Nick Passmore says:

    Amen to that, Jonathan! Nice modal version: suitably haunting, with a slightly sinister edge!

  6. Jane Ramsden says:

    Awesomely sad and haunting! Waah!

  7. the_otter says:

    Fantastic. This one is in my Folk Song a Day top ten.

  8. Diana says:

    Another interesting tale full of pathos, ending in death.

  9. Reynard says:

    Like the otter said: the fox considers it on of the best Folk Songs a Day until now. I’m a bit biased by Cara’s wonderful version as shown on Mainly Norfolk, though.

  10. Jane Ramsden says:

    With regard to this song, the fox is very wise in his estimation! (Though I prefer Jon’s more lugubrious version to that of Cara…. weeping into mi’ coffee now… lol.)

  11. Diana says:

    I agree with the foxy one that Cara’s version is beautiful. Jane you beat me to it, whilst I was pondering on whether to submit you sneaked in before me. Jon does a good job but I particularly liked the musical accompaniment to Cara’s version as well as the vocals.

  12. Diana says:

    @John B (W.M.) You will be pleased to know that my lovely fox friend is still alive and kicking. I haven’t actually seen him but the front drive reeks and once smelt never forgotten. He must have come through the garden early this morning. How is Spud Murphy? I expect he is as happy as you with each other.

  13. Diana says:

    Reynard why didn’t you tell me that you already had the information about Lillibullero when I thought I had been helpful. Looking back through the comments there, it appears you had already discovered this for yourself.

  14. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: I noticed that at the time, but didn’t say anything to either of you as you were both happy with the situation – lol! You were still being helpful. If he wasn’t just being kindly accepting, even Super-Folky-Fox is allowed a tiny lapse of memory now and again!

  15. Diana says:

    @ Jane: Thanks for you comments, I felt really foolish when I realised what I had done – like taking coals to Newcastle I think is the expression I am searching for. I obviously had not read all the comments very well or I would have spotted that. I expect the foxy one was just being kind to silly me!

  16. Reynard says:

    Diana, I had commented to this blog last year but didn’t add this bit of information to Mainly Norfolk then. Up to now I hat completely forgotten abaut that and I thought your comment was a welcome addition so I added it to my site this time.

  17. Diana says:

    Thank you for that Reynard, it cheered me up considerably on reading your remarks. Glad to be of help for a change.

  18. Diana says:

    I have noticed that you have now joined that very exclusive club of JaJoDi and the mis-spellings clique. Congrats. When I do it I put it down to more haste less speed. :mrgreen:

  19. Reynard says:

    I’m sorry about that, Diana (just to show that I can spell it correctly).

  20. Linda says:


  21. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey.U) says:

    “She gave him kisses three”……in my imagination that would have been a:-
    Lucky fella.

  22. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey.U) says:

    That old ship didn’t stand a chance:-
    battered and broken,,, leaking like a sieve…….and ‘damn blast and set fire to’ (probably by Diana’s old dad)

  23. One of the first songs I learnt 50 years ago


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